There are a number of reasons why it may make sense to sell your home sooner than you originally planned to, especially if you are using your proceeds to buy your next home.
But selling a house soon after buying can mean losing money, facing capital gains taxes, or paying mortgage prepayment penalties. On top of that, in today's volatile market, many homeowners see greater financial incentive to stay in the same homes for longer and gain equity. Homeowners stay in a home an average of ten years or more before selling, as of 2022 — that’s twice the average tenure from before the 2009 housing crisis.
All of the above is why the colloquial “five-year rule” exists. This rule says you shouldn’t consider selling until you’ve lived in a home for five years — and there are good reasons for that. However, unexpected life changes though can force you to make difficult decisions, and selling a house earlier, even after two years, can make sense in certain situations.
Common thinking says sellers won’t break even on their initial home investment if they don’t stay in it for five years. This idea is based on the transaction costs involved in buying a home in the first place, the money that many new homeowners put into improving their home, and the time it takes for the home’s market value to grow.
But, as they say, rules are meant to be broken, and the conventional wisdom didn’t account for the past few years seeing one of the biggest housing booms ever. Since home prices will continue to grow, you may be able to sell your home sooner without losing money.
Of course, it’s not always about selling your home to make a profit. There are a number of reasons why you might sell sooner than expected.
While most people who aren’t professional home flippers don’t plan to sell their house two years after purchasing, there are plenty of reasons people do end up selling soon after buying. These reasons include:
While there may be good reason to sell your home soon after buying, doing so comes with financial risks. When you bought the house, you paid closing costs that you can’t recoup without gaining equity or the house appreciating in value. There are also costs associated with selling and moving expenses to think about.
Before you decide to sell, consider something called the breakeven point.
The breakeven point is when you can expect to sell your home and recoup all the money you spent on purchasing it in the first place.
In a normal market, housing prices tend to rise, and you’ll also gain equity as you pay your mortgage, thereby offsetting costs of ownership as well as buying and selling transaction costs.
While the breakeven point varies across markets and as mortgage rates fluctuate, it’s important to calculate it as closely as you can if you must sell soon after buying.
You can sell anytime, but it’s smart to wait at least two years before selling. By living in your home for at least two years, you can exclude up to $250,000 (or $500,000 if you’re married) of the profits of the sale from your taxes, thanks to the Two Year Ownership and Use Rule and Home Sale exclusion. If you can’t wait that long, let’s talk math.
To avoid taking a loss, you’ll need to recoup your down payment, closing costs, and the monthly mortgage payments you’ve already made. You’ll also want to make back the property taxes and the mortgage insurance you’ve been covering every month. Calculating those numbers — which tend to be the same every month — should be simple.
From there, you must calculate how much equity you’ve accrued and/or how much of your mortgage’s balance you’ve already paid down. (This calculator is a great resource for inputting your numbers.) It will take most homeowners at least two years to reach breakeven point with equity and monthly mortgage payments, but the market fluctuates — so this is why you calculate it.
Most importantly, you must determine a realistic price for your home. Research list prices of comparable homes in your area and have a professional conduct a comparative market analysis or home evaluation. You know what you bought your home for but, even if it’s only been a year, demand may have changed in your area so you could ask for more — or may have to settle for less. (You can get a free home valuation with Orchard. Our estimates are 30% more accurate.)
Finally, calculate the costs associated with selling your house. If your ultimate home sale price ensures you recoup your down payment, closing costs, mortgage and insurance payments to-date, nets enough profit to justify your equity gain, and offsets the selling costs, you can sell your home soon after buying without taking a loss. (And remember, if you sell your house after two years, you’ll also get a nice tax credit.)
In some cases, it’s possible to turn a profit even if you sell your home very soon after buying. Some of the common instances in which it benefits you to sell within two years after buying are:
→ Find out how long it takes to sell a house
It is possible to sell a house soon after buying it while still making a profit. But even if the value of your home has increased, homeowners can still suffer some losses.
Before listing your house, consider these other potential losses.
If you sell your house after owning it for one to two years, you'll pay long-term capital gains tax, which can be as much as 15% or 20%, on the proceeds.But if as long as you’ve lived in your home for at least two years , you’ll be exempt from paying capital gains taxes on a portion of your proceeds sale exclusion).
If you sell your house even earlier, like within a year, you may face an even higher tax burden; you won't benefit from long-term capital gains, and will have to pay tax on the home sale based on income tax rates, which could be as high as 37% depending on what bracket you're in.
There are a few other exceptions to capital gains taxes (for example, if you have to move due to a natural disaster), so it’s a good idea to consult a tax professional before selling.
→ Learn more about avoiding capital gains tax when selling
Some lenders include clauses in their mortgages for prepayment penalties if you sell your home before a certain amount of time has passed. It’s rare, but some lenders issue these penalties because a premature sale means they’ll miss out on interest payments they would have otherwise received for years to come. They'll typically charge you 2% to 5% of the remaining balance on your loan.
Make sure you review your mortgage agreement before you sell to verify that you won’t be subject to pay these penalties.
There’s a psychological element to selling a house soon after buying, whether you like it or not. Even if your local market has seen a big increase in demand, your home’s price may stagnate if people assume you’re selling because something is wrong with it.
This is one reason why it’s a good idea to hire a real estate agent rather than sell by yourself if you’re selling soon after buying. A real estate agent can help with marketing and alleviate concerns of potential buyers by answering all of the questions that arise and assuring them you’re not selling because there’s a problem.
If you're looking to sell your home, Orchard can help. We can even help you line up the sale of your old home with the purchase and make a non-contingent offer.
Orchard guarantees your home will sell, so you can buy your next one worry-free.
We provide peace of mind that your home will sell, plus list your home on the market to maximize your earnings.
Use our home sale calculator to estimate your net proceeds.
Our Home Advisors are experienced local agents who know how to sell for top dollar and help win your dream home.
All Orchard Home Advisors are experienced agents who know your local market inside and out. Request a consult today.
Did you know cash offers are 4x more likely to be chosen by a seller? Let us help you make one on your next home.
Orchard’s home value estimates are 30% more accurate.
Orchard Home Loans shops the market to find your best rates.
A cash offer is 4x more likely to be chosen by a seller. Get qualified today.
Make a cash offer now, and Orchard will sell your old home after you move.
Tell us your must-haves to see personalized home recommendations that meet your criteria.
With Orchard, secure your dream home before you list. Avoid home showings, rentals, and double moves.Learn More